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Vanderbilt 31, Western Kentucky 17: Mason’s gotten good at winning the games he’s supposed to

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The two-touchdown final margin actually understates things.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
FIVE FACTORS Vanderbilt WKU
Plays 56 82
Total Yards 394 350
Yards Per Play 7.04 4.27
Rushing Attempts 34 23
Rushing Yards 179 32
Rushing YPP 5.26 1.39
Passing Attempts 22 59
Passing Yards 215 318
Passing YPP 9.77 5.39
Rushing Success Rate 29.4% 30.4%
Passing Success Rate 63.6% 32.2%
Success Rate 42.9% 31.7%
Avg. Field Position 25.9 24.8
PP40 6.2 3.4
Turnovers 1 1

With a win over Western Kentucky on Saturday, Derek Mason is now 11-3 as head coach against non-Power 5 opponents. Of the three losses, one was to a Houston team that made a New Year’s Six bowl (might as well have been a Power 5 team), and another was to a Western Kentucky team in 2015 that finished the season 11th in S&P+. (We’ll not speak of the third one.)

And counting this game, he’s now won six in a row against non-Power 5 opponents, and those six wins have been by an average of 20 points per game, and only the Western Kentucky game last year was even close. Mason’s 5-24 record in SEC games (and 6-26 against Power 5 opponents) is obviously problematic. But even there, since 2015 Mason is 5-6 at home against Power 5 teams, with four of the six losses coming against teams that finished the season with ten wins or in the AP Top 25 (I’m just gonna assume Alabama and Georgia finish that way this year.)

Basically, since 2015, Mason has actually gotten to be pretty good at winning the games that Vanderbilt should win — games against average (or worse) non-Power 5 teams and home games against average-to-below-average Power 5 teams. The problem with that is that at Vanderbilt, there are only so many games like that on the schedule; this year, there are only six games like that. So getting to 6-6 means that you either have to be perfect in the winnable games or you have to steal some wins elsewhere (last year, Mason made up for blowing a winnable home game against South Carolina by winning at Georgia.)

As far as this game goes, Vanderbilt won 31-17, and a quick look at the box score shows that that margin actually understates things quite a bit. On a per-play basis, this wasn’t close. Vanderbilt averaged 7.04 yards per play and held Western to 4.27; the Commodores’ offense was successful 43 percent of the time and Western’s was only 32 percent.

We’re still not sure if Mason can win consistently in the SEC, but at least he’s reliable at beating teams like Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee — a task that eluded Woody Widenhofer and Bobby Johnson for much of his tenure. So... yay?

PASSING Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Kyle Shurmur 14 21 66.7% 220 2 0 1 5 215 63.6% 9.8

Yeah, that will work.

RUSHING Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Ralph Webb 24 105 4.4 1 37.5%
Trent Sherfield 1 45 45.0 1 100.0%
Sam Dobbs 1 18 18.0 0 100.0%
Kyle Shurmur 2 8 4.0 0 0.0%
Dallas Rivers 5 4 0.8 0 0.0%
Jamauri Wakefield 1 -1 -1.0 0 0.0%

I see Andy Ludwig read the comment cards in the suggestion box. Trent Sherfield had a 45-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep, and Sam Dobbs had an 18-yard run on a similar play.

Still, plays like that aren’t the kind of thing you can run all the time, and the “meat” of the offense (Ralph Webb running the damn ball) is returning to form as well. 105 yards and a 37.5 percent success rate isn’t great by any stretch, but it’s also a hell of a lot better than what Webb had been doing earlier in the season.

RECEIVING Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Trent Sherfield 5 5 82 1 100.0% 16.4 16.4 100.0%
Kalija Lipscomb 5 3 43 0 60.0% 8.6 14.3 60.0%
Trey Ellis 1 1 31 1 100.0% 31.0 31.0 100.0%
Caleb Scott 3 1 18 0 33.3% 6.0 18.0 33.3%
Nathan Marcus 1 1 15 0 100.0% 15.0 15.0 100.0%
Sam Dobbs 1 1 15 0 100.0% 15.0 15.0 100.0%
Jared Pinkney 1 1 11 0 100.0% 11.0 11.0 100.0%
C.J. Duncan 2 1 5 0 50.0% 2.5 5.0 50.0%
Ralph Webb 2 0 0 0 0.0% 0.0 #DIV/0! 0.0%

I’m really not sure if Trey Ellis should even get credit for a “target” on that touchdown catch, because I don’t think he was the intended target of that pass — but it’s whatever.

I think it’s pretty easy to decide who gets the game ball for Vanderbilt yesterday. I just really wish Trent Sherfield had redshirted in 2014, because it’s going to suck to lose him (though in a hypothetical where he had redshirted, there’s a good chance he’d be off to the NFL either way with the season he’s having.)

Notes

  • There was one change on the offensive line, with Bailey Granier getting the start at right tackle in place of the injured Devin Cochran. That didn’t really turn out to be a problem against Western Kentucky, though we’ll see if this holds up over the next three weeks.
  • Vanderbilt’s defense notched six sacks, with true freshman Dayo Odeyingbo getting two of those — the first two of his college career — and Charles Wright also getting two, for an SEC-leading nine on the season.
  • For a lot of reasons, I wish this game and the Florida game had traded places on the schedule. Beating Western Kentucky might have prevented the post-Alabama hangover that arguably led to a five-game losing streak. And if Vanderbilt had faced the Florida team that showed up in Columbia, Missouri, on Saturday, Vanderbilt probably wins that game.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt stays at home next week to face the 6-3 Kentucky Wildcats next Saturday at 3 PM CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

Remember what I said about Mason getting to be good at beating the teams that Vanderbilt is supposed to beat? Kentucky (and Missouri in two weeks) definitely qualify, and both games are at home. Regardless of how bad the team looked for five games (really four; the team looked fine against South Carolina even in a loss, thanks SEC refs), a bowl game is still on the table.